Most of us just live our lives. We live by routine and stay in our lane. Our lives carve tracks that we follow day after day, month after month. And for most people that kind of steady consistency is the ideal. Anything outside of that track is an interruption, a nuisance, or even a crisis.
We make decisions based on this narrow track. What do I need to live my life better? What will help me be a better employee, parent, student, or spouse? What will simplify and enhance my life? These are our filters. And we ignore all that doesn’t fit through the filter. It’s not that those other things are necessarily bad. It’s that they don’t matter. At least to us.
The result is that we shrink our lives. We shrink them to our own needs (or perceived needs) and preferences and schedules and commitments. We shrink the margins of our life to leave room for a little relaxation, a little personal betterment, a little Netflix. We seek to know what we must and little more. We ask those questions that progress us down our track and few others.
J.R.R. Tolkien, in his classic story, The Hobbit, describes a race of beings who sound strikingly like us in the Western world. They live simple lives and love their food and drink. They are suspicious of the outside world, even fearful, but are fascinated by tales of it. In short they desire simple lives with the right amount of pleasure and the occasional tale of what happens “out there” across the borders of the Shire, their home.
We are real life hobbits, seeking peaceful lives centered on daily needs, basic comforts, a little gossip and some good parties. We want to handle our business, do our work, and be compensated fairly for it. But we really want the outside world to stay outside. Don’t invade our Shire. And don’t expect me to go on any adventures or quests into the great unknown, and especially not with anybody strikingly different than I. I get the adventure I need from watching reality TV, nature documentaries, and listening to missionaries talk about the other side of the world. If I get really adventurous I can go find a video on YouTube of someone doing parkour on the Eiffel Tower or something.
But then our carefully directed and graded track intersects and merges with another, that of someone whose experiences wildly diverges from our own. A wizard, as it were, knocks on our door or a pile of dwarves devours everything in our pantry and sings a tale of a dragon. Now our shrunken life isn’t enough to make sense of their life. We’ve heard rumor of such people and such experiences, but they were much more palatable online. We don’t understand and we don’t understand how to understand. We don’t know what questions to ask or what resources to use. We have suppressed and excluded curiosity for so long that we no long have any idea where to find it or how to use it. We are stuck.
Conflict happens. Friction happens. Empathy is nowhere to be found because empathy requires walking a mile in their shoes but we don’t know where to walk or even how. We are inert, lost, frustrated and confused.
This is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, The Curious Christian: How Discovering Wonder Enriches Every Part of Life, that is due to be released in early 2017.